Independence Day got its start in Philadelphia in 1777. The city recognized the one-year anniversary of Congress's formal adoption of the Declaration of Independence by lighting bonfires, ringing bells, and setting off fireworks on July 4. In later years, other cities followed suit.
Since then, communities across the United States have celebrated America's independence in their own distinct ways. Washington, D.C., marked July 4, 1919, with a Festival of Peace that came shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, which formally ended World War I.
The celebration featured music and parades, and it drew people representing dozens of nations from around the world. A National Geographic Society float, above, was part of the festivities.
—Jane J. Lee
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLES MARTIN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
A Foreign Celebration
British officers celebrate England's former colony in an Independence Day observance in Jerusalem in 1918.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLES WHITEHAIR, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
PHOTOGRAPH BY RICHARD OLSENIUS, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
A man stands on the front porch of a store in Lorman, Mississippi, in March 1998 as a flag billows overhead. The Continental Congress established the official flag for the burgeoning Union in 1777.
PHOTOGRAPH BY RANDY OLSON, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
Old Glory hangs over vintage gas pumps in Springs, New York, in a photograph taken on July 4, 2008. Beyond the stars and stripes, the flag's colors are also significant. Red symbolizes valor and hardiness, white represents purity and innocence, and blue stands for vigilance, perseverance, and justice.
PHOTOGRAPH BY MICHAEL RUGGIERO, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
Fireworks have figured in Fourth of July celebrations since the first Independence Day. Here beachgoers watch the skies over Nags Head, North Carolina, in 2010.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID ALAN HARVEY, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
The United States flag is reflected in water droplets arranged on a pane of glass in an image submitted to National Geographic's Your Shot photo community in 2012.
Although many institutions take down their American flag in rain, presidential proclamation or law requires it to fly 24 hours a day in some places, including the White House, Fort McHenry in Baltimore, Maryland—which inspired Francis Scott Key to write "The Star-Spangled Banner"—and U.S. Customs ports of entry.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID BROWN, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
A couple takes in the 2010 Fourth of July fireworks show from New York City's High Line, an old freight railway.
PHOTOGRAPH BY DIANE COOK AND LEN JENSHEL, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
A young girl lights up the night on Independence Day, 2008, with sparklers on a dock in Walker, Minnesota.
PHOTOGRAPH BY JOEL SARTORE, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE
In Washington, D.C., boaters watch the 2013 Fourth of July fireworks from the Potomac River behind the Lincoln Memorial.
PHOTOGRAPH BY VASSILIS ROUKOS, YOUR SHOT
Sparks of light cascade from a fire hydrant in the Fort Point section of Boston, Massachusetts, in a picture taken in 2012.
PHOTOGRAPH BY GARY STUBELICK, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC CREATIVE